Main opposition goes on defensive
After losing all four available seats, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) sank deeper into internal turmoil. Of the four vacancies filled on Wednesday, the ruling Saenuri Party won three, while Chun Jung-bae, who left the NPAD to run as an independent, took the fourth seat in Gwangju, the NPAD’s home base.
Despite its size, the by-elections were an important test for NPAD Chairman Moon Jae-in, who was elected to lead the party in February. Following the defeat, Moon had to deal with not only calls to resign from his critics inside the NPAD, but also potential renegades - those in a movement to set up a new party in the Jeolla region.
Chun, a political veteran and a former justice minister, left the NPAD in March to avoid a primary within the party and won the race in Gwangju’s Seo B district as an independent candidate over main opposition contender Cho Young-taek.
His victory makes Chun a five-term lawmaker.
But Chun’s victory was more than just about winning, as Gwangju and the surrounding Jeolla region have been the opposition’s primary political base for decades.
In an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday, Chun announced that he would gather a new power in Gwangju and the Jeolla region.
“I will foster a new [former President Kim Dae-jung-like figure] and give options to the public in the general elections next year,” he said. “I haven’t decided whether to set up a new political party, but I’ll make sure I gather people.”
“I only need seven more people to run for the elections in all of Gwangju’s eight districts, and I will try to send my people to all 30 districts [when counting] the Jeolla region,” Chun continued.
North Jeolla and South Jeolla each have 11 seats.
However, Chun also threatened the main opposition party, and stated on Thursday following his victory that he will take discontented NPAD members into his group. Those remarks were part of his first appearance as a lawmaker in three years.
“There are so many good people in the NPAD,” he said. “Should I bring half of them?”
If Chun succeeds in his attempt to recruit politicians and create his own group, the NPAD is destined to face its biggest challenge in Gwangju and Jeolla region in the next general election.
Chun added that he focused in on that because it was one of the few places the ruling party was unlikely to gain any ground.
His commentary alerted main opposition party members, especially those demanding Moon and other leaders in the main opposition to step down.
“There may be dozens of NPAD lawmakers willing to join the new party,” NPAD lawmaker Park Joo-sun said in an interview with YTN Radio on Friday. “The result of the by-elections on Wednesday means that voters in Gwangju and Jeolla have abandoned the NPAD. We should change the party and the first step would be changing its leaders.”
You Sung-yop, the chairman of NPAD’s chapter in North Jeolla, also mentioned Moon’s resignation.
“Rather than taking responsibility [for the loss in the by-elections] by just stepping down, we need to figure out why we failed and lost and promise countermeasures to prevent it from happening again,” You said in an interview with CBS Radio on Friday. “But if we can’t find a reasonable solution, we should do it even by altering the chairman.”
Moon blamed himself for the defeat, but despite criticism from within his party, the chairman made clear that he had no intention to step down.
On Thursday, he attended the NPAD’s policy adjustment meeting at the National Assembly, where he pledged to reform the party.
“I really appreciate the help and support from candidates, party members and our supporters,” Moon said. “I blame myself for the loss, and I will restart with stern determination.
“But the result of the by-elections ... doesn’t mean they’ve forgiven the Park administration and the ruling Saenuri Party.”
BY KIM BONG-MOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]